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Dialogue and listening: Fostering racial tolerance in high school sports

PennLive today publishes a story that peels away the layers of high school sports, uncovering beneath the veneer of wholesome competition and athleticism, a troubling tolerance for racial intimidation.

Racial taunts and slurs, say many black student athletes and coaches, are often an accepted part of playing sports.

In the wake of this report, PennLive will continue to strive to foster inclusion and understanding on any sports field marred by racial insensitivity.

No one expects racism to be eradicated with one conversation or one interaction, but even an initial coming together of groups and individuals who find themselves divided by racial tension can go a long way to fostering understanding and change behavior.

That, says Shannon Powers, of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, is the guiding principle behind a slew of initiatives with community partners, including schools and law enforcement, aimed at addressing racial incidents and tension among school communities.

“Virtually everyone who works in this field finds that interaction and listening to each other’s perspectives is one of the most important things in helping to foster understanding,” Powers says.

The lack of a dialogue — and of a coming together — exacerbates stereotypes and negative opinions among individuals and groups torn apart by racial tension, she said.

“Creating that opportunity for dialogue and interaction is very important,” Powers said. “Having those difficult conversations about differences, and listening to one another so you don’t automatically lead to conclusions that someone is a certain way because of how they look. To be willing to have the difficult conversation and be willing to listen just is a huge step in the right direction.”

The commission every year investigates complaints from within school communities of racial incidents and harassment, which under law, are forms of racial discrimination. The initial complaint can be brought by an athlete, a parent or member of the school.

Under the Human Relations Law, Powers points out, schools are responsible for providing an atmosphere that is free of racial harassment or discrimination.

The commission every year offers training to schools to help educators and students address issues concerning race matters. This includes racial incidents and taunts at high school sports venues.

Partners include the Pennsylvania Interagency Task Force on Community Relations and Activities, State Police, the Department of Education, the state Attorney General’s office and the Department of Justice.

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